“Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.”
― Isak Dinesen
When I started out this month, my aims were small. Well, small-ish. I wanted to follow Dinesen’s advice, and work my way through a variety of writing projects, submit to a bunch of contests, finish my novel. I’ve done most, and have hopes for the latter (there are still a few hours left). I’d fallen out of the writing habit. Like exercise, writing takes regular application of self, and, like exercise, there are so many things that could be done instead.
Knitting for one.
I’ve done a LOT of knitting.
I never understood knitting until recently and now it is an addiction. A foolish one, perhaps, but at least it makes things.
It’s a lot like writing. Each stitch, or word, leads you towards the finished project. In both, as soon as you start to feel confident, you drop a stitch or lose the word or write drivel or knot the thread.
Which is why it’s important to do the “without hope, without despair” thing.
The other thing about Nanowrimo is that you become intimately aware of your procrastination techniques. In fact, you disgust yourself, as you dust the underside of shelving, iron your underwear, tweeze all the hairs from whatever part of your body you can reach, all simply to avoid the keyboard. You come to laugh at yourself, to understand that a lot of procrastination is that you don’t have a clear pathway to proceed and that if you take your little flashlight of creativity and head down that dark path, you might instead surprise yourself with something marvelous or scary or even totally grey and discardable, but still a step along the path to the finish.
Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself. It is healing to know all the ways that you’re sneaky, all the ways that you hide out, all the ways that you shut down, deny, close off, criticize people, all your weird little ways. You can know all of that with some sense of humor and kindness. By knowing yourself, you’re coming to know humanness altogether. We are all up against these things. We are all in this together. (Pema Chodron: Start where you are: A guide to compassionate living)
Pema Chodron has another saying that initially drew me up short.
If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path.
It’s a good thought to have when writing. It is all uncertainty, this writing bag. We are forming new ground, laying a new path, creating every step of the way. We uniquely form these stories – two people with the same map will come up with completely different trips. If we can relax and let the process take us, maybe we can achieve the goals we desire.
And, since it is the end of the month and the end of many people’s novels and the start of endless revision, and coincidentally as it is Mark Twain’s birthday, I think I’ll end with a quote from my favourite master:
Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.
The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.
– Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1902-1903
Ah, how right you are, Mr. Twain. And so I go, into the dark dark hole of revision…